Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blogging is addictive and I must say that I've missed not having something to say this week. Of course, those who know me understand that I've had plenty to say, but it hasn't necessarily been book related.
I'm just finishing the audio version of Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder, a series of intertwining short stories that are at once funny as hell and devastatingly sad. I had planned to write quite a bit about it but I've just read A. S. Byatt's review of the book that appeared recently in the Washington Post Book World. How does one follow that?
I will say that the reader, Susan Denaker, does a great job with the material. I wondered, as I often do, how much of the author's life, if any, is reflected in these stories. Atwood's main character, Nell, reflects on the awkward, painful and difficult position of being, not only the "other woman" but also a stepmother, in a long relationship with a man who selfishly avoids pressing his wife for a divorce because she's so "fragile."
Now, before you defend the wife, Oona, let me tell you that she's the one who left him, introducing Tig to Nell practically on her way out the door. Controlling through passive-aggressive behavior, Oona looms large in the lives of her sons and exerts an incredible amount of influence on Tig, now Nell's husband. Nell, meanwhile, is dealing with aging parents, a sister diagnosed with schizophrenia and the pull of her biological clock.
The saving grace here is the beauty of Margaret Atwood's writing. Nell's ruminations over the years are spot on, whether she's describing her fear and anxiety at being 11 years old and having to watch over her mother who is facing a problem pregnancy or being a single, twenty- something college professor at a faculty party where the wives eye her with envy and distrust. A lifetime of caretaking for others could result in some deep seated resentments ( I know I've certainly had my moments) but Atwood's Nell shows remarkable resilience and compassion. She makes you want to be a better person.

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